The first holidays after a divorce or separation can be a heartbreaking nightmare as estranged parents negotiate access to their children. There are ten things parents can do to help their children enjoy the holidays and to serve their best interests in the future.
“Divorce is never an easy experience,” said Gaetano “Guy” Ferro, immediate past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). “Children can make it more difficult for the parties to reach reasonable agreements. Disagreements about financial issues may cause the parents to act emotionally or irrationally when it comes to the children. The primary goal of both parents and their attorneys should be to avoid conduct which would be detrimental to the children’s best interest.”
• Give your children permission to love the other parent. Help your child make a card for Dad or buy a gift for Mom. Encourage them to call the other parent.
• Set realistic expectations. To divide or share a holiday, each parent will have only half as much time with the child. While children may enjoy multiple celebrations, most do not care that the festivities are actually on “the” day. Holidays can be alternated by year and if Mom does not have Thanksgiving with the child this year, bake a turkey the preceding weekend.
• Coordinate gift giving. If a child has a wish list, split it with the other parent. Resist the temptation to over-indulge the child with gifts. Do not give the child a gift you know the other parent is planning to give. If the other parent will not cooperate, do not complain to the child.
• Do not use your children as messengers. The decision of where to go and when should be decided by the parents. Permitting the child to choose time with one parent is a burden and vests the child with inappropriate power.
• Do what you say you are going to do. Pick up and drop off the children on time. Do not request last minute changes.
Other tips for divorcing parents include never letting a child hear you disparage the other parent. Resist the temptation to permit your child to act as your caretaker. Do not uproot your children if at all possible. Reassure your children that the divorce or separation is not their fault and encourage and permit your child to see and love grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on the other parent’s side of the family.
Over the coming holidays, please let your children be children. They shouldn’t have to worry about adult problems. For more helpful tips you can access the “Children’s Bill of Rights” and “Stepping Back From Anger” on the AAML website, www.aaml.org.
Many parents contemplate divorce as holidays and New Year approach. Holiday filings can increase the trauma; your children will always associate their parents’ divorce with the holidays. Please resist the urge. Divorce lasts a long time. There’s rarely a reason to rush. At a time of year that resonates family and joy, please put your children’s well-being ahead of your own.